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Blackboard upgrade expected to offer a better user experience

On May 21, Emory's Office of Information Technology (OIT) will introduce the significantly-improved Blackboard version 9.1. Among the many improvements is a vastly superior interface for adding external Internet content and enhancements to the now well-established Gradebook.

This upgrade allows Emory's instance of Blackboard to be robustly supported in current versions of web browsers, as well as being better designed to accept content from other websites, like YouTube, Flickr and Slideshare. Imagine teaching a class on "Contemporary History of the Middle East" and including recent videos from Cairo, or introducing students to slideshows from around the world that document -- from the perspective of a citizen -- a nation's response to their AIDS crisis. These types of content, previously difficult to integrate, are now easily added to a Blackboard course.

"What I love about this upgrade is how the interface keeps getting simpler to use, and things like embedding a link for a YouTube video require much fewer steps," says José Rodriguez, director of faculty services in University Technology Services.

According to Rodriguez, other noteworthy features of Blackboard 9.1 include:

• A new, cleaner interface

• YouTube, Flickr and Slideshare integration, called "Mashups"

• A "Paste from Word" feature to strip out hidden formatting code

• Course-to-course navigation to jump between content areas of all courses

• Blackboard Desktop Drive for desktop access to Blackboard files

• Enhanced grading features

• New and enhanced functionality in blogs and wikis.

To better support the Blackboard upgrade, OIT is also pursuing a comprehensive review of documentation and support resources for the product, including a focus on how to best respond to faculty requests. This "service makeover" is aimed at improving the overall experience of using Blackboard, from asking a question about new features, to troubleshooting a stubborn problem that won't go away.

"When this upgrade is complete, the entire Blackboard community should be doubly rewarded. We will have an upgraded environment, but we will also have new and improved processes and documentation, to better align with our environment," says Blackboard administrator Leah Chuchran. "We really hope it's a ‘win-win' upgrade."

Emory's Center for Interactive Teaching (ECIT) is the home for introducing Blackboard upgrades. Already ECIT is offering workshops on "Blackboard 9.1: What's New," and will continue to do so through and beyond May 21. Check the ECIT calendar for the latest schedule of workshops and their availability.

The work to complete this overall effort requires the coordination of many different parties, both internal and external to OIT. The project is also occurring in a narrower time frame than ever before based on the opening of new Maymester term and the multiple course schedules the University maintains in the various schools.

"The effort is complexity in pursuit of simplicity," says Blackboard strategist Sandra Butler. "The team is aspiring to deploy improvements in every facet of the product, where the final result is ultimately a better end-user experience."

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